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Hashtag finds its meaning IRL

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ISLAND WAVES STAFF 
Staff Collaboration

The recent information regarding sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood is nothing new. It’s public response, however, is a sign of changing times.

People seem to have accepted sexual favors, unwanted advances and other inappropriate behavior to be par for the course in the entertainment industry, particularly from men toward women. Whether they’re OK with it is one thing, but we would say people were generally indifferent. Especially if the issue didn’t affect them directly.

What’s a little real-life drama to add to the drama actors and actresses play out on big and small screens, alike? The only thing is this reality isn’t too far from our own. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), one in six women in the United States have been victim to attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.

For younger women, the numbers get more drastic.

Females age 16-19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape and sexual assault. Women ages 18-24, i.e. college aged, are three times more likely than women in the general public to experience sexual violence. The stats go on and on painting a pretty bleak picture for people. The one positive we can draw from these statistics and others like them, is a reminder of how much further we need to progress as a society.

It dispels the notion that this is an issue only affecting crusty old guys looking to take advantage. This is our generation’s issue as much as any other’s, but we can be the ones to do something about it.

One major movement that came from these recent allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein and others in similar positons was #MeToo. The hashtag arose on Oct. 25 after actress Alyssa Milano tweeted out a request for those who’ve been victims of sexual assault to reply to her tweet as a sign of solidarity. Soon after, people began using #MeToo to share their own stories and find others who’d experienced sexual violence and assault.

Nearly 500,000 tweets have used the hashtag since its inception. Twitter even provided a custom emoji to the hashtag showing several hands raised.

The tendency for things to go viral online can lead to memes getting recycled into the ground or the latest thing President Trump said to dominate people’s timelines. Like it or not, social media offers an opportunity for content, stories and movements to spread quicker than anything in history.

Soon after the hashtag blew up, rallies and marches dotted maps around the world and the movement received think piece after think piece from news outlets. One central theme remained though: self-reflection.

Both as individuals and as a society, we think #MeToo represents the best and worst of humanity. On the worse end, it allows for anecdotes on some heinous acts we didn’t even think possible, betrayal of trust and just what the scum of humankind is capable of.

On the other hand, the movement, as it was intended to, allows for victims to see they’re not so alone. Others have been in similar situations and they have a common thread that binds them like nothing else can.

The majority of these victims both statistically and anecdotally, according to the hashtag and our own life experiences, tend to be females, but this issue and particularly its solutions aren’t gendered in nature. There’s the statistic that one in 10 rape victims are male, which at first glance seems like a small number. Inversely, it means nine in 10 rape victims are female, which is sobering.

As a male, I’ve never understood why guys feel the need to get defensive when confronted with these statistics. The classic “well I’d never do that” defense doesn’t solve anything. It’s not about pointing fingers, it’s about finding solutions. I think men can learn a lot from the #MeToo movement. The obvious is simply to treat people as equals, regardless of gender and never violate the privacy and intimacy of others without prior consent. But there’s more here.

As the most likely statistical perpetrators for sexual violence,

If more men adopted the mentality of looking out for other people, victims and potential victims would be more comfortable coming forward for help. The way things are now, people are hesitant to confide in others because who’s to say this person is any better than the last? Logically, that’s a fair assumption, but that can all change and it starts with giving people a reason to trust.

We’ve seen our share of vulnerable female friends concerned about an ex, dealing with a break-up or any manner of stressors go to a male friend in their time of need only for the guy to take advantage of their openness. That’s unacceptable.

The best way to get rid of these sorts of manipulative dynamics is not to take advantage of others. As obvious as it sounds reading in print, being self-aware enough to know better than to take advantage of someone takes one more potential act of sexual violence out of the equation; male, female, transgender and everything in between. The point remains.

Another thing #MeToo did really well, was help develop support systems. Victims and non-victims alike found people to confide and seek understanding from. This transfers beautifully to real life. Stopping someone from forcing themselves on a girl at a party isn’t just something that happens so the “hero” can get with the girl, like movies would lead one to believe. Another, more reasonable option is to simply help someone in need because that’s what people should do. A reward shouldn’t be necessary for being a morally sound human being. It shouldn’t take a metaphorical cookie to keep from taking advantage of someone.

This effect scales exponentially. Imagine a whole rave full of dudes, glow sticks on full-blast, telling off guys getting too handsy or getting water for the stranger whose had too much to drink before they endanger themselves. As cheesy as it sounds, good deeds are like yawns; they’re contagious. One good one deserves another and we’re feeling tired, if you know what we mean.

So we encourage everyone to do their best to be someone they would want to have in their corner when they don’t know where else to turn. #MeToo represents a seemingly endless stream of shocking stories and acts of malice. #MeToo also represents an equally limitless source of those who’ve been through horrible things but survived ready to share their stories and support others like them. Think it’s about time these statistics and stories became less commonplace and eventually went away entirely? Us too.

 

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